The Court of Appeal in Abuja on Wednesday reserved judgment in the appeal filed by the substituted governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Mr. Eyitayo Jegede, in the forthcoming November 26 election in Ondo State to challenge his replacement with Jimoh Ibrahim, who belongs to a rival faction of the PDP.
After the Wednesday’s hearing, the Justice Ibrahim Saulawa-led three-man panel said the date to deliver the judgment would be communicated to the parties through their lawyers.
The appeal is challenging the orders made by Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court in Abuja on June 29 and October 14, 2016, which the Independent National Electoral Commission acted on by dropping Jegede and replacing him with Ibrahim as the party’s standard bearer in the forthcoming election in the state.
Jegede belongs to the Ahmed Makarfi-led faction of the PDP while Ibrahim belongs to the party’s faction led by Ali Modu Sheriff.
The Justice Ibrahim Saulawa-led panel reserved judgment in the appeal after Jegede’s lawyer, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), adopted his client’s appellant’s brief amid opposition by respondents’ lawyer, Mr. Ben Nwofor (SAN).
The lawyer representing the PDP in the case, Mr. Godspower Mrakpor, also opposed the hearing of the appeal.
But the Justice Saulawa panel allowed Nwofor to restate his objection to the hearing of the appeal after Olanipekun had adopted the appellant’s brief.
As of the time of hearing of the appeal on Wednesday, Nwofor, whose nine clients, led by Biyi Poroye are state officials of the Sheriff-led faction of the PDP in the South-West zone, had not filed his clients’ respondents’ brief as earlier ordered by the appeal panel on November 10.
Instead of the respondents’ brief, Nwofor only on Wednesday just before the proceedings commenced, filed a notice of preliminary objection contending that the court had lost jurisdiction to hear the appeal.
The Wednesday’s proceedings went on for over five hours amid tense courtroom charged by confrontation between members of the Justice Saulawa-led panel and Nwofor.
Justice Saulawa, at a point accused Nwofor, who put up stiff opposition to the hearing of the appeal, of treating the court with disrespect by attempting to take over the role of presiding over the proceedings from the panel.
The presiding justice also accused Nwofor of shouting at the bench, an allegation the lawyer deflected by counter-accusing the judge as being the first to do so.
“Respect is reciprocal,” Nwofor said.
Describing Nwofor’s conduct as “contemptuous” and “disrespectful,” the judge also asked, “why is this disdainful disposition towards the court?”
The problem started immediately after the case was called at about 10am on Wednesday and Olanipekun introduced his court processes.
A lawyer, Mr. J. A Badejo (SAN), also informed the panel of his application seeking an order joining Jimoh Ibrahim as a co-respondent to the appeal.
Nwofor also rose to inform the court that no hearing could be conducted in view of his clients’ appeals challenging the November 10 ruling of the court granting leave to Jegede to appeal had been entered before the Supreme Court.
Emotion began to flare up in the course of the proceedings.
The appeal panel had to cut short Nwofor’s argument in opposition to the hearing of the appeal and retreated to chambers to write a ruling.
The panel returned later and directed that it would first hear the motion filed on behalf of Ibrahim for joining as a co-respondent.
The panel said it would then hear the main appeal along with a motion for stay of proceedings filed by Nwofor before the appeal court.
But Badejo later withdrew on the grounds that he needed to protect his integrity, adding that given what had transpired the court atmosphere was not enjoyable to him.
The appeal panel later agreed with Olanipekun that Badejo’s motion filed on behalf of Ibrahim be struck out.
Nwofor then moved his application for stay of proceedings.
He opposed the hearing of the appeal on the grounds that the Court of Appeal had lost jurisdiction to hear the case.
Citing the number of his client’s appeal before the Supreme Court as SC.951/2016 and SC.952/2016, Nwofor said he had in addition filed a motion for stay of proceedings before the apex court.
He said the court must defer to the Supreme Court by not hearing the appeal further until the apex court determined the fate of the motion seeking stay of proceedings.
Nwofor cited a number of Supreme Court authorities and other Court of Appeal’s decisions, including two recent ones delivered on November 8 in which the same Justice Saulawa panel suspended hearing in the sister cases relating to the PDP crisis in Ondo State.
The lawyer had urged the appeal court to follow the previous decisions so that “the court is not accused of double standard.”
Olanipekun urged the appeal panel to dismiss Nwofor’s motion, arguing that the cases cited by the lawyer were not applicable to the case.
He also held that the prayers sought in the motion were ungrantable.
The SAN went ahead to adopt his appellant’s brief after the motion for stay was heard.
But Nwofor again restated his objection to the hearing of the appeal, while alluding to the notice of preliminary objection which he had filed in opposition to it.
Responding on points of law, Olanipekun said the notice of appeal was deemed abandoned having not been moved before he adopted his client’s appellant brief.